It seemed like the Hornets were back at the beginning of the year. At home against the Milwaukee Bucks, the Hornets got down big again – like 20 points big – and fought back after a miserable first half to force the game into overtime. This time, unfortunately, they couldn't pull out the victory in the end.
The Hornets nearly scored as much in the third quarter (29) as they did the entire first half (32). They started off fast, going up 14-6 on the Bucks when Milwaukee head coach Jason Kidd called a timeout at the 7:28 mark of the first quarter. But then things unraveled. The Hornets were down 15 with 1:20 left in the first quarter and then it was a 22 point deficit at the 3:19 mark of the second quarter.
During that stretch, the Hornets shot a pathetic 17% from the field in what was perhaps their sloppiest bit of offense all season. In the first half, the Hornets got nothing from their low-post players with Al Jefferson, Cody Zeller, and Bismack Biyombo combining to go 0-for-7 with 0 points.
However, things turned around in the third quarter with the Hornets scoring 17 points in the first six minutes behind better play from Gerald Henderson, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, and Al Jefferson. However, the Bucks for most of the third and fourth quarters kept things at bay – whenever the Hornets would threaten with a quick run, the Bucks would get a stop or hit a 3-pointer to stretch it back out.
The Hornets were finally able to close the gap late in the fourth and tied it up at 81 with 3:05 left after a Marvin Williams 3-pointer. Kemba Walker then hit a layup to put the Hornets up by two before Brandon Knight could tie it with a putback layup of his own with 15 seconds remaining. Things were eerily mimicking the first game of the season again – could Kemba seal another win for the Hornets this time around?
Unfortunately, coming out of the timeout, the Bucks doubled Kemba and it led to this bad turnover…
Going to overtime, the Bucks quickly jumped out on the Hornets, who were playing without Al Jefferson after he went to the locker room in the fourth. They outscored the Hornets 21-11 the rest of the way and made it much less of a climactic ending than it seemed it might be.
The Hornets were fortunate to even be in this game – they shot 33-90 (36.7%) from the field, including 7-25 (28.0%) from the 3-point line. Only Kidd-Gilchrist, Zeller, and Henderson shot above 50% in the game. Walker had a big scoring line with 28 points, but it took him 22 shots to get there and only had 4 assists while accumulating 5 turnovers, including the costly one at the end that shorted the Hornets of an opportunity to shoot for the victory.
MKG and Zeller ended as the only positive players in terms of plus-minus and the rotations never really seemed to work tonight. Clifford had some success late in the game, but did it going small, and that eventually hurt them with big man John Henson getting some late, important buckets against smaller defenders. One basket Henson got matched up on Brian Roberts, not an ideal matchup.
Clifford is still working on which lineups he can use – the Hornets have players who are good on either side of the end, but not many right now who can be efficient on both. The trade-offs – keep Roberts in for shooting but sacrifice defense? Play Biyombo for defense but sacrifice offense? – are not easy decisions and each game demands adjustments that they’ll have to get more comfortable with.
It was nice to see them battle back after playing so terribly in the first half, but it’s hard to not be frustrated with the ending. If the Hornets want to truly make a playoff push in 2015, games against middle-of-the-pack Eastern Conference competition will be must-wins for them.
They’ll try to get back on track Wednesday against the Houston Rockets. What did you all think about the game?